Oct 25, 2014

The Hectic Life of a Sports Family

Abigail and Dolley readers, today let's talk about something touchy, sports.   (Take a little ride with me, this is a not an attack on anyone but more of a dramatized tale.  Just pretend that I am the "Ghost of Christmas Present".  Even if your experience is not this extreme, perhaps you can find some truth in the below.)  Sports... the great American pastime, it evokes images of camaraderie, cheering spectators, and life's lessons learned on the ball field.  Just good plain fun, but is that the honest truth in today's world?  An idealized view of modern sports drive behavior and decision making in American families.  We maniacally throwing our children into one activity after the next, all in pursuit of a sports fantasy.  For countless families, the reality is far from fantastic.

In the not so distant past, kids played a variety of different sports.  Sports had seasons and kids moved from one season to another, not settling on a single sport until their late high school years, if ever.  This variety taught them different skill sets, types of movement, tempos, and paces.  Multiple sports insured kids had different friends, coaches, and experiences. Sports were a balanced part of a well rounded childhood, where the family did not revolve around the child or his activities. Today, it is widely believed and practiced that parents should select their "kid's sport" by age eight.  Once chosen, then the wholehearted investment, commitment/pressure, and expenses begin.  These kids embark on a journey of conditioning seasons during the heat of the Summer, special camps, travel teams, year round sports, clinics, personal trainers, and position coaches - for ten year olds.

Let's consider the time.  Public school demands more time from your child's life than ever before - 38 hours a week from bus ride to bus ride + homework.  Then we drag these kids to hours of sports practices and games.  Frazzled moms yell at tired kids to do their homework on the one hour commute to the "away" game and not get fast food mustard on the seat.  Are you tired yet?  Wait, there's more.  Now multiply this scenario by the number of kids, who play different sports, have different practice times, and different locations.  Mom takes one kid and Dad takes the other.  Other relatives are recruited and this insanity bleeds over into households that don't even have children.   Add in Scouts, Dance, Music, and Art because they need to be well rounded.  The truth is we try to give our kids everything that we wanted and didn't get.  Recently, I overheard a lady comment to a boy, "Where've you been, Justin?  We haven't seen you in weeks."  The young boy shook his head, sighed, and said, "I've had 11 games in the last 14 days."  This conversation took place as the 7th grade Junior Cotillion class that was dismissing at 8:30 pm.   That 12 year old boy had put in a 13 hour day and I'd bet he still had homework.

So we've got time and hectic schedules, now top this off with money... the cost of a single season on an elite soccer travel team in my community is $3000 plus equipment, plus all travel expenses.  Even church recreation leagues are $200 for a short 6 week game season.  The more elite the team, the more money, time, and commitment are required.  The family budget suffers tremendously for this pursuit.

The kids are having a great time, right?  Really? Even when the kids are enjoying themselves and the rigorous schedules, this lifestyle is having a negative effect on them. Consider this, scientists are now discovering their physical development is stunted by some single sport training. Concussion risks and long term neurological damage have gotten press in recent years but the full extent of the problem and the long term consequences are far underestimated.  What a single concussion does to the developing brain of an eleven year old could be catastrophic.  In our society we demand more:  more school, more games, more practice and something has to give.  In the end, it's often adequate rest.  Our frantic children are chronically sleep deprived which effects their mental, physical, and emotional health.

Well, it all worth it in the end, right?  The games are so much fun for everybody, right? Maybe, but here's a cast of characters that can be found at just about any field or gym in America.  First, let's talk about "Pinterest" Team Mom who makes up goody snack bags that are adorned with handcrafted curlicue personalize tags for each player.
There is the maniacal crazy Mom screaming at the coach, her kid and yours, and the referee.  Don't forget the over zealous team Dad running down the sidelines coaching his kid along the way.  Then, there is the berating parent, who humiliates his kid in front of everyone.  There's Business Parent pacing along the chain link fence in their business suit and blackberry, "Look at me, I'm so important at work that I have to take this call and can't watch the game, but give me props for showing up." (God forgive me, that was me...)  Finally, there's the forlorn sibling, asleep on the top bleacher wearing her grass stained softball uniform.  Her game is over but she has to wait for her brother's game to finish.  She's been up since 6:00 am, so she's dreaming of her own bed and wishing it was Sunday Morning so she could just sleep in. Well maybe, many teams now are holding games on Sunday.

Let's not leave out the organizers, coaches, and referees.  There are stories of corrupt referees; paid off by the other teams rich sponsor or booster club.  We have the "Home" referee who is going to insure that his team wins.  The other team reciprocates with their "Home" referee because all is fair in Middle School Football.  Some coaches appear to have their sole mission in life to win.  Not to teach, not to have fun, but to win at all costs.  Their self esteem seems to hinge on this 5 year old peewee football game.  They will exhaust the good players and never cycle in marginal kids.  They won't throw the football because their is risk involved, thus leaving out important parts of game play because their only objective is to win.  There are Little League Commissions that fix the teams, the schedules, and the recruiting; they fail to discipline abusive coaches.  In our personal experience, we've encountered a number of cheater coaches who throw tantrums and quit in the middle of a game.  We've seen flag football coaches instruct their players to tackle.  We've seen soccer coaches laugh and applaud when their 7 year old boy players run over 5 year old girls but have a melt down if they get a taste of their own medicine.  These coaches and parents give lip service to sportsmanship and having fun, but many will relish the opportunity to cheat if they can get away with it, winning at all cost.  Don't think for a minute the kids don't see it, they aren't stupid.

Our family has chosen not to play in these reindeer games.  At one point, we were a Sport's Family, well, the light version anyway.  My husband coached a number of teams that our son played on, plus martial arts.  Middle School demanded more time and our son made the decision to quit his other activities and stick with Martial Arts.  We periodically investigate putting him back in one sport or the other because he is a great athlete.  There is part of us that buys into the sports fantasy, too!  We just can't seem to find anything that doesn't require a significant hit to the pocketbook and a part time job for us and our kid.  He's past the time when kids have "their sport" and everything is deadly serious and expensive.  I do not want to spend 18 hours per week driving back and forth to practices, I just don't and these days there isn't an extra $650 laying around.  As a result, we're on the outside looking in to this strange child-centric sports culture.

In the end, we have a cross roads of a sports crazy culture that intersects with a child centered culture and this is what you get. Does anybody stop to consider what this is doing to a family?  What does it do to little kids?  Why have Americans in large numbers chosen to live this lifestyle?  What do we sacrifice?  I'll tell you, we sacrifice down time, time to be quiet and to think.  We sacrifice reading and learning.  We sacrifice wholesome home cooked family meals.  We exhaust our children by filling their days with structured and supervised activities - they do not learn to entertain themselves or create their own fun.  We speed from activity to activity never measuring the financial, personal, and emotional cost.  We sacrifice our kid's health, from sleep deprivation, to repetitive movement injuries, to concussions.  Never doubt this frenetic pursuit is having an effect on your child.  Finally, we sacrifice our time with the Lord.  We give our children Sunday morning to sleep, since it's the only day of the week they don't have to get up and run around.  We don't take them to church anymore because our priorities lie with sports, our new god.

Where do your priorities lie?  It's pretty easy to see, "Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be."

(This video clip gives insight into what we adults do to kids.  Warning Strong Language)